Nemesis

Something was chasing me through underground catacombs, the same vaulted, rough stone that I always found myself running through, with muffled detonations from the surface shaking my breath in the cold air, and my family trailing behind me, half-conscious and vulnerable, hardly even alive in the same way as me. I'd shake them, "This is just a dream!" but they just looked at me reproachfully and turned their faces back towards their destinies again. So I'd stay with them, and sink back into the story of the dream, losing my wakefulness, until all that remained was a numinous awareness, an ability to communicate that exceeded most other beings in the dream.

Except the creature that caught me, finally found me, in some deep, fluted recess in the underground passageways of a forgotten citadel. It was golden and yellow and orange, shaped like an eight-foot-long lionfish, and it floated in the air, moving with implacable swiftness. I had been running from it for a long, long time, and I couldn't run any more. It was the end of a thousand dreams of flight from death. It had been following me all this time, and its purpose was to end my life. We had both always known this.



We spoke. I found that I wasn't afraid any more, now that it had caught me. I asked it why it was following me, why it had to end my life. It couldn't really answer the questions in the form I was asking them. I knew that I had once been a very different person, but to save my life, my whole psyche had been replaced, wiped clean. I could no longer remember anything about my old life and the person I had once been, so I asked my Nemesis what I had done in my past lives. It knew m,y thoughts and everything about me, but it wouldn't answer me. I kept asking, and he showed me images of a sick young man hanging around a school playground, tempting children away, waiting for them to wander over to him, the sun bright on their legs. As soon as I saw the images, I said "Yes! I knew it...I knew that in a past life I abused children," and it said, "You know everything you've ever done. You could tell me right now the whole story of your past lives."

>-<

The baby crawling towards the jagged hole in the upper story floorboards, like a scene from a movie rolling in slow motion through the water of my mind, and I spring forward to cath the child, but it's too late, it falls through the hole and falls three floors to its death. I stare down at its broken body, waves of horror and nausea washing over me. This baby was my mother's, and it had been entrusted to me. I had allowed something to happen that I could never get away from. I knew that I was as good as dead.

>-<

The man's body, bones broken, at the bottom of the deep, long staircase, where we had pushed him to his death. The air smelled musty and cool, heavy with memories from my school days, and around the corner was the tiny room, hidden in an alcove, where we played chess on Wednesday afternoons. It was a time without threat. Now we had murdered this man, and it was as if his blood became a tide washing over my mind, so that everything became dark and fluid, and the connections between my thoughts and my identity were lost. When I returned, and my mind was healed somehow, I was standing in front of my girlfriend and my father. They were crying, and lookinng at me, and I held up my hands in incomprehension, looking at the lines on the palms while they explained what had happened. I'd been in a lunatic asylum for the last 20 years, after something terrible happened in my past, something my mind couldn't bear, and sent me into darkness to keep me alive. The shock of all those lost years came upon me in that moment as I saw my own face, lined and full of sorrow and waste, and I looked at the people who loved me, and felt ashamed. But at the same time I felt free, like a soul coming out of purgatory. I'd gone as far down as you can go, and the sky was still blue and I was still loved, no matter how many years had gone, or how undeserving I was. I cried until I woke up.

>-<

I was crying while my nemesis talked to me. My mother was there too, and she told me that it wasn't in a past life I had committed these crimes, but in this life, only my memory of it was gone, destroyed. She showed me a bunch of small, plain flowers and a book of handwritten poetry that I'd sent to the parents of the children I'd molested, after I'd been caught and punished. I'd repented and become self-aware, and I'd been healed somehow, and that old me was dead, literally dead. I was crying really hard, because I didn't want to have done those things, but I knew that I had - that this was my legacy, my karma, my story that I now had to deal with.

I spoke to my nemesis some more. It explained that it was trying to find a way not to kill me. Its only purpose was to kill me, but it was trying to find a way out. I said "Is it something to do with stories?" and it replied, Not exactly, but close. It was something to do with stories and thought, and the inevitable repetition of old patterns and stories through the mechanism of thought. If I could change the nature of my thought, I could escape the destiny of the death that was waiting for me.

>-<

I went walking with a shifting-girl, an amalgam of several people I know, trying to explain to her the nature of thought. We wandered through nameless suburban estates full of white houses and walls covered with graffiti - "TEEN BRIDE IM SORRY", "CIRCULAR SELF PORTRAIT IN GREEN", "GOURANGA". I pointed out a tree branch, and said that in the mind, this was an 'image' or 'thing'. The image was made up of 'feelings' - the feeling of the bark, the feeling of the knots and shapes of the branch, its colour and weight - all feelings in the mind. And then I explained that when the branch moves or is seen to act, sprouting leaves, or moving in the wind, the mind tells a story to represent that action and explain it. "The branch is moving in the wind". But the story is false, because in reality the branch itself does not act, and there is no story governing its movement. It isn't even a 'thing'. Thought warps and alters reality by isolating portions of its flow and calling them 'things', and then telling stories to interpret the seeming actions of those things. This is the nature of thought. And it locks us into our already-written destinies, our personal stories, in which we are isolated actors reciting our doomed soliloquies to a presumed audience, poor little branches doomed to wither and fall, unaware of the life we share with the root, the blossom and the bole.

This is what my nemesis was trying to tell me, and I woke up explaining it to the shifting-girl, so that the last words about the branch were spoken into the silence of the bedroom before I even opened my eyes.

>-
 

Snow / Flesh

it rained a lot / there's not much snow left
but last night was magical / we've been living like hermits
barely dressing / take-away food every night
cuddles at night for the body / but the mind has been king
ruler swayed by the wizard Internet / we're bloated with words
and people / but the snow changed everything
nothing abstract about a face full of snow / innocent
caught in a social web / but crazed beyond caring
no friends or enemies, only bodies / ageless white
dance mats for children / branches snapping under cold weight
I wanted to forget who I am / like everyone else
I was a ghost in the snow / slipping and staggering home
air frozen in the lungs / hugs for old friends
they'll soon be gone / the rain is really coming down
you could fill a whole mind with regret / for the disappearing white
but only the flesh exists / only the flesh is alive

Cold City Cat Food

Outside the front door, stars, in holes between steel blue rings of cloud. air's almost too cold to breathe, can't stay still, muscles jerking, body trying to survive blindly against the ancient glacier enemy. body doesn't know about time, and the warm living room waiting just a few moments into the future. mind knows about time, forces body further out, past the slippery first step, down to ground level, to see Mars steady and orange above the terrace roofline.

pick up the cat's food plate, pouring off the rainwater and dead leaves. the neighbour's cat likes tunafish, comes to our house every day looking for what we buy cheap in white label cans from Morrisons or Tesco. gets bored with cat food, I would too. domestication and boredom go together. but I remember when I was wild, and it's still there, not just as an artifact in my symbolic mind but as hormonal and cellular memory in the body, chemically-burned knowledge of the way the world really is, waiting. let a giant meteorite or comet strike the Earth, all of the cities fall apart, and watch the chemical, atomic body resurrect itself, rise up to take control. the fighter, eating roots and garbage and doing what's necessary to survive in the unknown present. meanwhile I'm getting a nice domesticated belly and tired eyes from staring at cathode ray screens. there's time for it all, it's all taken care of.

muscles getting a life of their own as the cold buries itself deeper into the meat. turn around to go back to the warmth, but then there's the terrible shrieking sound of cats fighting a few streets away. is it Jose? put the plate down on the wall, run to find out, forget about the cold. bare feet starting to go numb on the concrete and tarmac but they'll recover. breath steaming, jogging carefully, watching for glass and tin and stones to cut my soft feet. the fight's a bad one, someone's in pain, an ear or whiskers or fur torn, an eye scratched,  a claw ripped out? let's hope it's not Jose, he's such a soft little catthing and Stan doesn't look like he can pay too many vets' bills. not like my mother who brings the cat to the vet if he looks tired, at £30 a visit. learned how to manage money from my mother, what a fucking tragedy. still, at least she cares about cats. i got that from her too.

every street is cold and quiet and empty of movement, red brick terraces with lights out and chimneys dark and unused. we all have central heating or electric heaters. no one burns wood or coal any more and even the candles in the wondows for Christmas are electric. they have an artificial waver built into them as if to appear more realistic despite the fact that they are green and red and yellow and placed under curtains that would have caught fire. gardens are paved with concrete slabs and the plants are all in pots. feet numb now, no cats in sight, the fighting noises have stopped and there are only the factory vents and the distant cars and my own breathing. my lungs are getting chilled. I make miaowing noises but there's no answer and any minute now someone is going to wonder what psycho is creeping around the street in the small hours trying to be a cat. time to go back to the warm place. time for bed, even, maybe. no work tomorrow. the faint, faint mist of the galaxy overhead, reminding me how short my own life is. measured in increments between short, pointless weekends, and moments like this, mostly unrecorded, lost somewhere in time, "like tears in rain", like something that never happened. there was no catfight. next morning Jose will be scratching at the door looking for more tuna and luvvins, and it all goes on as normal for another day.

takes a few minutes for my feet to get warm again, held over the heater as i balance on one leg and try not to look silly. the vectors of the house take over my mind so easily, as I count off the next few steps mentally. a cup of tea, some time on the computer, then get ready for bed. lock the door, turn off the heaters and the lights, brush teeth, snuggle, fall asleep. i don't know anything about the stars and i don't know why every night i have to stand for at least a moment on the porch looking up at the sky. maybe something will fall out of it, or into my mind. maybe one day they won't be there. maybe i won't be. there's no story to the moment at all, no compulsion and no reason. like a marble in a bowl, i roll into the zero point and stay there until I'm moved again.

Kendron, The Body

Late at night, screaming at the nameless bright stuff
Kendron is trying to get the drop on the insane
catch it unawares, rip it apart and eat it
sleep exhausted shivering on a shed roof

squatting on a rock by the edge of the water,
shoulders hunched, listening for bird calls
somewhere behind there's a presence, a mind:
ignore it, it doesn't exist, it doesn't matter

Kendron has a gun, Kendron sweats and screams
glowing blood-orange in an oven-hot kitchen.
He won't fuck you unless he loves you;
but it's okay. He loves everyone.

A marble in a bowl, chasing zero,
hands and eyes focused on a synthetic plane
tuned into the overworld, spine a shockwave,
a fish slingshotting up a cold weir,

a strangled gasp in a freezing fog,
Kendron can close his eyes and hold his breath
and suddenly, beautifully, he never existed.
Reborn every moment. In debt to every atom.

he obsessed over a terrible nightmare from his past
until it broke him: baby-killer locked and drugged
in an asylum, he lost 20 years of life and mind,
emerged to see his father, his wife, his own hands

lined and trembling. realization like the collapse
of glaciers. he'd been wandering the labyrinth
of his own mind for decades, thinking it real.
horror and loss, tears, waking and relief.

but the fear lingered.
how could he know what was real?
who could tell him?
and then, to remember:

I am Kendron, the body.
I don't dream and I'm not lost.
there's nothing but this.
there's no NEED for anything but this.

sun, frost, roads, branches, faces.
spirals and soft sounds. cats.
a star fading into a yellow horizon.
at last, dying and living for no reason.
 

Invisible Road

everything we ever hoped for, swallowed
in the last desperate act of a suicide
refusing the places that the mind wants to go

the sound of the cat scratching at the door
the stars are biting the blue air and the moon
is lighting up the clouds like chemical flares

ambient music in the chilly front room
sound bubbles popping craters like raindrops in sand
a link back through memory to another city

the road ahead is invisible
and all the lives behind us
forgotten

Needles

Late at night, Liadain's asleep on the sofa
and the cat's curled by the heater - TV down low -
silence through the window behind me turns into hissing
then a thin thunder like the shaking of heavy chains
as a week of still cloud dissolves into 5 minutes of rain

I open the door and stare at the clear cold sky left behind
I'm a needle in the shallow groove of the street
held still by the stylus of the stars
while the planet turns, making weird music
I don't belong here, but somehow I'm still in tune

sometimes at night there are explosions, gunshots,
the roar of souped-up engines along the warehouse roads
the twitch of spying curtains, the cat's confused voice -
it won't go into its owner's house since his mother died -
a hooded face peering around the corner, perverts in the chip shop
and grey-skinned women smoking on doorsteps through the afternoon
the war graveyard tangled with sycamores and oaks, and the hills
covered with tiny red houses: matchboxes waiting for a spark.

I'm a needle in my own veins. The face in the mirror
isn't me. The voice in my head isn't me.
The stoned bathroom dancer, the past and future
of my decisions, the way my friends see me; none of it is me.
I'm a compass needle swinging crazily, magnetized
on an invisible lodestone, for an unknown purpose.

Sitting in Starbucks sipping latte at old newsreel doublespeed
sixties music from the speakers, soft seat cushions
everyone giving each other strange, secret glances -
everyone wants something. The end of the world,
the end of the self in someone else's smile. History
happening every second, ignored, misunderstood
and all of it just a thought, disappeared, already over -

we fight and make up, crash dishes in the kitchen
and go asleep in the Buddha room with foreheads touching -
we make love, we curl up in fear at night, we're caught
in the flow, passing like petals, it's all already over
and it doesn't matter. We're needles placed
in the meridians of the Earth itself, doing what we can.
We have to believe it's enough just to be as we are;
if not, then nothing’s worth fighting for anyway.

Forcefield

I was rearranging the furniture in our house and eventually I had moved everything out of the sitting room. It seemed empty and for some reason we thought we might have to move out of there soon. We were renting from a landlord we didn't know very well. When I went looking for the landlord, I stepped out of the door into a totally different place. It was a strange, heavily built-up urban area that looked as if it had been bombed and then left to crumble - there was graffiti all over the walls and only a few of the street lights were working. There were groups of people hanging around everywhere, as if it had turned into some kind of squatters' community since it was destroyed.

I found my landlord outside one of the buildings. He had multiple piercings and short-cropped hair dyed bright red. He was standing talking to a very large woman whose hair was tied into short dark read braids that made her look like a Medusa, who didn't say anything but glared at me, and disappeared into the tenement when I approached to talk to them. The problem, as I now understood it, was that someone else was living in our house, but I was sure I could prove that we were supposed to be there.

He seemed surprised when I described the house to him, and then when I said "We're your tenants," he understood. Immediately he invited me in "to go to the beach." We walked through the house, which was darkly lit and unfamiliar now, and he disappeared into a bedroom saying he'd follow me out. I saw that the large woman was in another bedroom so I peeped in, asking "Do you know if this house is going to be available to rent again? Are you moving out?"

The woman's head was upside down on her shoulders and she had a demonic grin. It looked very unnatural. I looked across the room to a smaller bed where a strange child was sitting looking at me. There was something wrong with its head too - it was too narrow, and seemd deformed, with strange lumps. My landlord came out of his bedroom and said "No, go outside now! GO!" so I left, walking through the back door on to a wide silver beach with rolling dunes, which looked like a desert in the night illumination.

I looked back to see that the weird child was following me. I considered running, but then I thought "What have I got to be afraid of?" so I just waited to see what it wanted. I looked behind it to see a dragon approaching - a fake one, like the ones at Chinese Pageants. I said "Gargamel" because that was the dragon's name. I remember now that that was the name of the evil wizard in The Smurfs. Then both the dragon and the child disappeared. My landlord came out and we went out to lie on the beach together.

I remembered after a while that I'd left Liadain behind so I said to him "I've got to go and get my wife, she's waiting for me," and he said "Sure." He gave me a piece of paper with a lot of numbers and information written on it - paperwork so that I could get back in to the house and the beach again if I wanted.

When I was on my way back through the tenement building, something strange happened when I was going through the entrance hall. People were unable to get out of the doorways because a force field of some kind was holding them back. I tried to walk through the door, but it was suddenly like walking through treacle, or pushing against an invisible membrane. At first I thought "it's a magnetic field" because I thought I could feel it dragging on my belt buckle, but it still affected me even when I took off my belt.

The force field turned into a pressure even inside the building. Everyone was starting to scream. It was like sinking under deep water. It felt like my skin and bones were being crushed slowly, and I couldn't breathe. I couldn't speak, except a kind of strangled gasp. I managed to heave myself out of the door, then felt myself rise up off the ground, and that's when I thought "My god, it's Planet X...these are all gravitational effects...Planet X is passing, it's all true and we're going to die..." I looked up into the sky but I couldn't see anything up there but stars.

I was rising further off the ground, and my body was still being crushed. I said "Liadain!" because I didn't want to die without her being there, or maybe I thought she could help me. She appeared in my arms, and was frightened because she didn't know what was going on. "What's happening?" We were both floating in this immense pressure, and so was everything around us, people and bricks and cars floating around as if in a slow whirlwind.

I said "I'm sorry...I'm having a bad dream and I called for you, but now you have to share my bad dream." She hugged me and buried her face in my neck. I felt a tugging on my hand and I looked up to see a falcon or a hawk, some kind of bird of prey, grasping my hand in its claw. It was trying to pull us both up and away to safety. It was finding it very difficult, but it flapped as hard as it could and slowly we were rising out of the influence of the force field. At that point I woke up.
 

Gravity

The lights are streaming past,
burning sodium starlets hurled
by the hand punched through the membrane
of the bedroom scene;
the bright faces plunging through the tunnel
of limitless space and time, forever;
the fabric glimmering of the air
and all those who slay in her.

The driving thrum of guitars,
the energy in her eyes, holding the wheel,
facing unafraid the darker coastline;
rising out of the warm, luminescent water,
stepping into a held towel and a kiss,
asleep in our wilderness, my companion,
stopping in the downpour to see the islands,
the sun holding the hills, the sun on her hands

In one moment to see it shake to a halt
her eyes curiously regarding you –
how suddenly you fell into the future of her,
stars and water and stone and all
blurring and flowing towards an invisible image –
the unknown heart of her,
her thoughts when you kiss her forehead,
the feeling in her when she smiles:
the sun’s dark sister, drawing us near.

No-one's Garden

Parin tends a garden owned by no one -
bushes growing stunted in the red brick dark
between two terraces; old wooden gates
that only he opens; a path from street to street
never used and usually never seen.

With no alternative and no one to stop him,
he plants parts of his own mind in the dry soil
along with the shrubs and the ivy:
blue clouds blown across a cold red sunset
as he crested the hill at Roundhay Park on his bike;

the cold air and the noise the fox made when Sajid
killed it behind the school all those years ago;
the way the motorway noise never ended at night,
eventually drove the cat insane and made her shit
all over the house, until Dad wrung her neck in a rage.

Parin buried her in the soft dirt at the edge of the park,
because their garden was only glass and concrete.
The soil between houses is hard and thirsty, but he's healing it.
He remakes memories on the city council payroll
every day, in this dark little space between lives.
 

Colourless Fire

and then the rain of colourless fire
on the children dancing all night in warehouses
skin greasy like candles, dark wicks of hair,
chewing on rat poison, speaking in silent tongues
blind in the embrace of the mother heartbeat

in the living rooms of strange houses, black paper
holding the creeping dawn from the windows
sweat streaking the walls, bodies swaying
like fronds of seaweed, sleeping heads on stalks
drifting forgetfully down the dry ice river

when you're coming up, do you like to talk?
or to hug, dance, fuck, sing, laugh, cry -
to make a crucifix of yourself against the sun
something to hold back demons and daylight,
to exchange a year, three years of life just for tonight

magnesium babies burning karma, like sadhus
in their years of penance, palms pierced
by their own fingernails, limbs withered,
eyes bright, gaze unmeetable, bodies twisting
like saplings in a slow flame, the ecstasy kids

rubbing each others cheeks and bellies
chewing spearmint and smoking menthol
crushed and burnt and moulded into each other
this is how they learned to link hands
across their void, and they don't care how it ends